January 8, 2010

Why a restaurant deserves losing its Michelin star

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I met up with a couple of friends for dinner tonight.  One of them is in town from Taipei, and wanted some Cantonese food, so my other friend booked a table at Lei Garden (利苑) in IFC for us.  It's been more than half a year since I was last here, and things have gone downhill sooooo badly that I was livid and ready to leave the restaurant, even before we started eating!  I totally understand why they lost the Michelin macaron in the latest edition.

We were given 2 menus: the regular a la carte menu, as well as a plastic tube on the table seemingly listing the "greatest hits".  We looked both over and started to place our order with one of the captains.

"Can we have a roast barbeque combination with roast suckling pig (烤乳豬) and another item?"
"Sorry, no more suckling pig, but we can offer you roast pork belly (燒肉)."
"OK, can we have that with roast duck (燒鴨)?"
"Sorry, we don't have roast duck, either.  You have a choice of roast pork belly, char siu (叉燒) or chicken."
What?!  Awwww...forget it!

I was in serious disbelief that at 8pm on a Friday night, standard menu items that every Cantonese restaurant will stock in full were unavailable.  The captain proceeded to tell us that  they are in the middle of a menu change, so we shouldn't order off the a la carte menu but look at the plastic tube instead.  WTF?!  I asked the captain why we were given the a la carte menu at all if it's basically useless, and was told that it was necessary to show the a la carte menu to customers since it has the English and Japanese translations, while the plastic tube only listed dishes in Chinese...

OK, so we look at the tube and try to order something listed on it.  The table next door ordered a pan-fried giant grouper fillet (香煎龍躉扒), which one of my friends found interesting.  "Can we have that, please?"  "Sorry, the only giant grouper dish we have left (out of three preparations listed on the tube) is the braised fin (炆翅).  You should order that one."  What?!

There were a few other things we wanted which weren't available, and by now I was fuming and ready to get up to leave the restaurant.  But I didn't want to make it difficult for my friends, so I stayed and proceeded to order our food.

First to arrive was braised prawn in casserole (金榜題名生中蝦煲).  The Chinese name was kinda elegant, and the English description sounded innocuous enough.  What we actually got was prawns in laksa sauce.  Yes, as in the Malaysian/Singaporean dish with that curry/coconut milk/chili broth.  No wonder the waiter told us that it was a little spicy.  And here I was thinking that they were just gonna sprinkle a little black pepper or chili powder on top...  In all honestly the prawns were pretty tasty, and came with little steamed buns for us to dip into the sauce.  But they probably should have described the dish to us when we ordered it...so we knew that it wasn't exactly Cantonese.

Next came the braised conpoy and assorted vegetables (瑤柱海味雑菜煲). This is a simple dish but one of my favorites at classic Cantonese restaurants.  Lots of veggies mixed in with conpoy (瑤柱, dried scallops), dried shrimps, sea cucumbers and glass vermicelli (粉絲).

We did order fish in the end - a steamed green wrasse (蒸青衣).  I have to admit that they did an excellent job of steaming the fish - the texture of the flesh was just right.  Of course, the fish itself was very nice and fresh, too.  Perfect with some steamed rice.

The final dish was steamed lotus leaf wrapped chicken and Chinese preserved sausage in small steamer (籠仔荷葉臘腸蒸雞).  The combination of flavors is pretty classic - chicken, shiitake mushrooms, preserved sausage enhanced with the fragrance of lotus leaves.

I brought a bottle of 1995 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Varonniers, which turned out not to match the food we ordered.  But it drank reasonably well, considering how little I paid for the wine years ago.  Classic Rhone nose and palate, with bacon fat, floral and Christmas potpourri notes.  Medium body.  Pretty enjoyable as a casual wine.

There was definitely enough food to feed the three of us, and I couldn't find fault with the quality of the food.  But this would probably be my last visit to Lei Garden in a long, long time.  Their attitude was just ridiculous.  To not offer more than half the items on the menu, and have the gall to blame it on menu change (isn't this the first week of January?) and expect customers to just accept it as something normal is just too much.  I'm not sure why the people at Michelin took away the star this year, but from where I'm sitting they definitely don't deserve any.


Lambda said...

The menu part reminds me of McDull when they order lunch.....

Peech said...

Lambda, that is sooooo funny! You're exactly right! But am I really McDull?!

Lambda said...

You are McDull's mummy?

j said...

Woah, I was just thinking of making a visit to Lei Garden a couple days ago ... I guess I'll just pass on that. Thanks for the heads up!

Jonathan Stanley said...

It would seem for Lei Garden, Elements Mall is now the flagship branch... wonder if the IFC one will sort out their act?

Jilgi said...

OMG..That's exactly what happened to us. We tried to order the two Cantonese roast dish, and they told us we're out. Then we looked at the menu and he said don't order for it...exactly what they told you. This happened last year..and we haven't gone back for dinner and probably won't ever. (I'm starting to think maybe we were sitting at the table next to you..cause everything sounds so familiar! LOL)

Their lunch is decent though.


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